May 6, 2014

Can NASA Help Keep the Lights On? (Source: GCN)
It's one of those instances where the interests of science, business and the public all meet.  Researchers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center have been given access to Dominion Virginia Power transmission power lines in order to measure fluctuations in geomagnetically induced currents, or GICs. Why is the power company interested?  Because GICs – which are generated when solar events send waves of charged particles toward Earth – can cause circuit overloads and, if the surge is enough, power outages.

"That is pretty much the interest that the power-grid people have and obviously the public in general; we don't like to have our power go out," said NASA’s Todd Bonalsky, an engineer working on the project.  And what's in it for NASA?  "For space weather scientists here, the power grid can offer us a very large antenna so we can indirectly measure space weather events in the upper atmosphere," Bonalsky said.

And for the economy and the general public, the stakes are not small.  After a huge magnetic storm struck in Canada in March 1989, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that if the storm had hit the northeastern United States, the economic cost would have been more than $10 billion, not counting the impact on emergency services and public safety. (5/6)

Roscosmos Chief to Inspect Crimea's Space Infrastructure (Source: Space Daily)
The head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos will pay a working visit to Crimea, which became a part of Russia in March, to study the region's space industry infrastructure and the role it might play in Russia's space programs. Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko earlier said that the space agency is currently compiling a list of facilities in Crimea that could be useful for Russia's space programs.

The Russian space chief earlier described the region's Soviet-era space infrastructure as operational." Crimea houses a Soviet system of deep space communications and a planetary radar, built in 1960. It was earlier announced that the facility may be used as a ground station for Russia's GLONASS satellite navigation system. (5/6)

Russian Spacecraft to Get New ISS Docking System in 2015 (Source: Space Daily)
Russian spacecraft performing flights to the International Space Station will be equipped with a new automated approach and docking system starting next year, the manufacturer of the system said. "All Kurs systems will be replaced with Kurs-NA equipment in 2015."

The unmanned Progress M-21M resupply vehicle currently docked with the station successfully tested the new system last week. The cargo ship undocked from the ISS in an automatic mode using the new Kurs-NA system on Wednesday and re-docked Friday. The Kurs-NA system boasts advanced electronics, a fully-digitized control system and increased docking precision compared to its predecessor. (5/6)

Time is Running Out for Tiny Crowd-Funded Space Mission (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
An experimental space mission launched last month has hit trouble, and the project's team is worried the crowd-funded spacecraft will burn up in Earth's atmosphere before releasing a swarm of tiny satellites the size of poker chips. Conceived by students at Cornell University, the KickSat project was funded by 315 backers through the online Kickstarter crowd-funding platform. (5/6)

China's Polar-Orbiting Meteorological Satellite Now Operational (Source: Xinhua)
China's third Fengyun-III satellite, a polar orbiting meteorological satellite, was put into operation on Monday, according to a news release posted on the website of the China Meteorological Administration (CMA). The satellite was handed over by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation to the CMA.

The third Fengyun-III satellite, together with the second Fengyun-III satellite, will form a monitoring network capable of constant three-dimensional, multiple-spectrum and remote-sensing observation of the earth. The network of satellites will provide more and better monitoring data for global environmental surveillance, disaster reduction and the fight against climate change. The third Fengyun-III satellite was tested and shown to function well after being launched on Sep. 23 last year. It is expected to raise China's precision in weather forecasting by around 3.0 percent. (5/6)

MUOS Gives Navy First Reliable Military Satellite Connection In The Arctic (Source: SpaceRef)
Analysis of Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellites during the U.S. Navy's 2014 Ice Exercise (ICEX) shows they provided nearly 150 hours of secure data connections. This was the first time military users could transfer large megabyte data files over stable satellite connections in the arctic. (5/6)

Iridium Warns of Possible Disruptions Caused by Russia Sanctions (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services provider Iridium on May 1 raised the possibility that the U.S. government’s widening sanctions on Russia could force a delay in the service entry of Iridium’s second-generation constellation and increase the $3 billion project’s insurance costs.

In the latest example of the growing ripple effect of the sanctions, imposed following Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, Iridium told shareholders its planned June 2015 launch of the first two Iridium Next satellites on a Russian Dnepr rocket, if canceled, could mean the company’s first launch would be of 10 satellites aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in late 2015. (5/6)

Harris Corp. Books Payload Accommodations aboard Iridium Next (Source: Space News)
Harris Corp. has booked multiple hosted payloads to be flown on the Iridium Next constellation of mobile communications satellites in addition to the main aircraft-tracking payload the company is building, Harris Chief Executive William M. Brown said.

Melbourne, Florida-based Harris is under contract to build 81 Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) air traffic monitoring units for the Iridium Next constellation, which is scheduled to be deployed into low Earth orbit between 2015 and 2017. (5/6)

Build a Spacecraft at Home with NASA-Approved Kit (Source:
A new kit lets kids and adults alike perform experiments and build models of real spacecraft, just like the scientists at NASA. The NASA-approved littleBits Space Kit teaches users how to build a model of a Mars rover, the International Space Station and a variety of scaled-down experiments that scientists use to explore the solar system. The kit comes complete with 12 modules that users can snap together to complete five lesson plans created by the space agency. Click here. (5/6)

NASA, CNES Warn SpaceX of Challenges in Flying Reusable Falcon 9 (Source: Aviation Week)
In theory, the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster can be reused more than three-dozen times. That's because the rocket's Merlin 1D engine -- nine of which power its first stage -- has a cycle of 40, according to Stella Guillen, SpaceX director of business development. "It's not obviously the entire system or the entire stage," she said during a space conference in Paris last month. “We don't know how many times we can fly the first stage. But the engines have a cycle of 40.”

Among the doubters is NASA's Dan Dumbacher, a former Space Shuttle engineer who leads the agency's exploration systems development. He says the agency learned a lot from its experience with the orbiter's reusable Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs). “We tried to make the engines reusable for 55 flights,” he said in Paris last month. “Look how long and how much money it took for us to do that, and we still weren't successful for all parts.”

Christophe Bonnal at French space agency CNES has a similar view. “If you reuse, you stop producing, depending on the level of reusability,” he says. “So you end up with a permanent prototype, and to keep costs down you need to have a high rate of production.” One of the most challenging aspects of reusability, he said, is the weight penalty added by hardware and propellant. He says the latter means reserving 30% of first-stage fuel in order to return a booster to the launch site. (5/5)

SpaceX Reusability Could Keep More Economic Activity in Florida (Source: SPACErePORT)
Given SpaceX's progress with Falcon-9 reusability testing, it might be wise to plan for their success. The company's plan to fly boosters back to the Cape Canaveral Spaceport after launch will require new infrastructure and would benefit from facilities for processing and testing the booster stages and engines for re-use. This is work that would otherwise be done after shipping the stages back and forth to existing SpaceX facilities in California or Texas.

Capturing this work in Florida would not only expand SpaceX's employment and investment in Florida, it should also make the Cape Canaveral Spaceport (including the proposed Shiloh launch site) more competitive as a location for SpaceX's expansion. The development of this kind of capability could be supported by the Florida Department of Transportation under their multi-million dollar annual spaceport infrastructure investment fund. (5/6)

What if Earthlings Invade Mars? (Source: The Hindu)
This can well be an interesting plot to make a sci-fi movie. As the scientific community gears up for a manned mission to Mars, there are apprehensions about invaders to the red planet — in the form of micro-organisms from the Earth! Astronomers fear that organisms on an exploring spacecraft or a landing vehicle have the potential to contaminate Mars. This would make it difficult for scientists to determine whether a life form existed on another planet or was introduced there by explorers. (5/6)

25-Foot Asteroid Comes Within 186,000 Miles of Earth (Source: Space Daily)
A 25-foot asteroid passed between Earth and the moon over the weekend, coming within 186,000 miles of Earth's surface. On average, the moon's orbit is 238,855 miles from Earth. Dubbed 2014 HL129 by astronomers, the bus-sized asteroid was only discovered several days before by scientists at the Steward Observatory, which sits atop Mt. Lemmon in Arizona's Catalina Mountains. The above video from, shows the orbit of HL129. (5/6)

Shoestring Theory: India's Pioneering Budget Space Probe Halfway to Mars (Source: Guardian)
If the £46m 'Mangalyaan' orbiter mission succeeds in reaching the red planet, it will be a triumph of ingenuity over big spending. A quality valued by most Indians is an ability to find a cheap solution to complex problems in a country where infrastructure is poor and technology is still largely unreliable. India's Mars orbiter, Mangalyaan, is perhaps the country's most audacious and successful example so far. A boxy probe built by scientists in just 15 months for the paltry sum of £46m ($75m) – less than the cost of the average Hollywood blockbuster film – Mangalyaan has completed more than half of its perilous journey to the red planet.

It is only a few days behind Nasa's Maven probe, which is propelled by powerful Atlas V and Centaur rockets. If Mangalyaan enters Martian orbit in September to survey the topography and sniff out evidence of methane, a key sign of life, India will enter the history books as a pioneering nation. It will be Asia's first country to carry out a successful Mars mission. Japan, China and 21 other countries have failed. (5/5)

FAA Announces Alaska UAS Test Site Begins Research Flights (Source: FAA)
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration today announced that the University of Alaska’s unmanned aircraft system (UAS) test site is the second of six to become operational. The FAA has granted the University of Alaska Fairbanks a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) authorizing flights by an Aeryon Scout small UAS for animal surveys at its Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range Complex in Fairbanks. The COA is effective for two years. The team began the wildlife flight operations today. (5/5)

How NASA Became Utterly Dependent on Russia for Space Travel (Source: Vox)
Russia, for its part, depends on the US segment of the space station for the electricity provided by its solar panels. And NASA, for its part, has no way of getting its American astronauts to and from the space station — or anywhere else in space, for that matter. So it pays $70.7 million for each one-way ticket on Russian rockets. The earliest that could possibly change? 2017.

Back in 2004, President Bush announced that NASA's aging space shuttle program would be retired in 2010 and — eventually — replaced by a plan to return to the moon. At the time, NASA realized there would be a four-year gap between the space-shuttle retirement and when the new manned space transport system would be in place. But at that point, it didn't seem like a big problem for NASA to ask Russia to transport US astronauts to and from the space station in the interim. Relations between the two countries were friendly — Bush was telling reporters that he'd looked into Putin's eyes and "got a sense of his soul."

Development of NASA's replacement vessels, however, has taken much longer than anticipated — the agency won't have a replacement for the shuttle until 2017. There are a few reasons for that. Bush's moon program was cancelled by Obama in 2010 and replaced with a plan for private companies to shuttle astronauts. Meanwhile, NASA's budget requests to pay for the new program were repeatedly underfunded by Congress. (5/6)

Plans Moving Forward to Put Shuttle Landing Facility to Use (Source: WFTV)
NASA is working on a new agreement that would help the Kennedy Space Center's push to become a hub for commercial spacecraft. "We're looking to build it into a real economic engine," said Dale Ketcham with Space Florida. The space shuttle landing facility (SLF) is at the center of the negotiations. NASA has taken a first step toward readying the old shuttle runway for new commercial launches.         
The agency requested a federal wetlands permit that could eventually allow  Space Florida to transform acres of wetlands into a multi-use spaceport. The proposed project area is on the east side of the shuttle landing facility runway within the Kennedy Space Center. But before any of the work happens, NASA has to transfer control of the SLF to Space Florida.

Editor's Note: This proposed transfer has taken much longer than originally planned. The Florida Legislature last week approved $2.5 million for Space Florida's work on the SLF, but that money won't be spent without an agreement in place. Also, universities like Embry-Riddle and Florida Tech are proposing spaceflight R&D projects that would use the SLF, but negotiations on the SLF status have stalled some plans and could stall others. (5/6)

NASA May Put Greenhouse on Mars in 2021 (Source:
Plant life may touch down on Mars in 2021. Researchers have proposed putting a plant-growth experiment on NASA's next Mars rover, which is scheduled to launch in mid-2020 and land on the Red Planet in early 2021. The investigation, known as the Mars Plant Experiment (MPX), could help lay the foundation for the colonization of Mars, its designers say. (5/6)

Space Society to Salute Hollywood at Confab (Source: Hollywood Reporter)
the 33rd Annual International Space Development Conference, set for May 14-18 at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles. Featuring a keynote from Buzz Aldrin, the event is presented by the non-profit National Space Society and is open to the public. “This year the NSS decided to honor Hollywood’s role in influencing the public’s perception of space exploration by creating this sub-conference,” producer and entrepreneur David Knight, who is chairing the Space and Media track, told The Hollywood Reporter.

He sees these industries growing closer than ever before, in large part because of advances in technology. Knight pointed out that Hollywood is making this more accessible for the public to imagine because computing technology is allowing filmmakers to create “very real depictions of what it might be like to go to to space, ranging from orbiting the earth in the Space Shuttle, a la Gravity, or through highly futuristic experiences, a la Star Trek. (5/6)

NASA Hosts Multiple Student Rocketry Challenge Events in May (Source: SpaceRef)
More than 20 American college and university teams will gather on Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats on May 17 to launch rockets they designed. The rockets will reach heights up to 20,000 feet, carrying onboard science and engineering experiments -- and high hopes among those on the ground to win prizes and bragging rights. The "launchfest" is the pinnacle of the 2013-2014 NASA Student Launch competition. The event is 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. MDT at the Salt Flats in Tooele County, Utah. (5/6)

Skylon to Achieve Dream of Single-Stage-To-Orbit (Source: RocketSTEM)
The UK government and the UK Space Agency had removed themselves from the launch technology game following the Thatcher government’s notional withdrawal from UK space efforts in the 1980s. However in early 2012, buoyed by ESA’s recommendations, Alan Bond and REL began testing the first full scale SABRE pre cooler with a jet engine to test heat exchanger performance in a working environment.

Alan Bond and REL are behind Skylon; the successor to Britain’s aborted HOTOL space-plane concept of the late 1980s. It is an unpiloted fully reusable aircraft-like vehicle capable of transporting 15 tonnes of cargo into space and is intended as a replacement for expensive expendable launchers in the commercial market. Skylon aims to be the first single stage to orbit (SSTO) vehicle in the world, addressing the needs of all major space launch markets. Click here. (5/6)

Space And The Promise Of Additive Manufacturing (Source: America Space)
It has been an emblematic technology of the ‘Star Trek’ television series for decades: a device that could manipulate matter and energy in such a way that it could create almost every object imaginable, from Captain Picard’s favorite beverage, to various machine parts of the Enterprise. If you’re inclined to view this kind of imaginary technology as being nothing more than an outlandish fantasy, well think again.

The advent of additive manufacturing in recent years, promises to bring this science fiction vision closer to reality, while revolutionising the entire manufacturing industry along the way. 3D printing is already being utilised today, within the automotive, jewelry, food and electronics industries among others. Yet, one of the biggest beneficiaries of this technology could be the aerospace sector, with many corporations like General Electric and EADS starting to take notice of the potential of this revolutionising technology. Click here. (5/6) 

Could We Soon Detect Alien 'Plant' Life on Exoplanets? (Source: Discovery)
Now we’re detecting dozens of exoplanets within the habitable zones of their stars — and even one world that has similar characteristics as Earth — the next big question will be: do any of these promising worlds host life? Unfortunately, the answer will remain elusive for some time to come, but that hasn’t stopped scientists from formulating plans to seek out alien biomarkers that could be ripe for detection. Click here. (5/5) 

Lowered Expectations at the New Canadian Space Agency (Source: CSCA)
Eighteen months after a review recommended changes at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and two months after Industry Minister James Moore announced the formation of two committees for public input and fiscal supervision of CSA activities, the CSA's new management has defaulted to the comfy, low overhead strategy of funding small, preliminary projects to "run up the flagpole" of other government departments and international organizations where more substantive funding (and political support) might just possibly be found. (5/5)

SpaceX Acquires More Land (Source: Valley Morning Star)
SpaceX continues to buy property in Cameron County, the Valley Morning Star has found.
Recent land purchases come on the heels of a favorable opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the California-based space exploration firm’s proposal to settle at Boca Chica. Elon Musk’s Dogleg Park LLC picked up an additional five lots in late April, bringing the total number of lots it has acquired in Cameron County to 95.

The total land area that SpaceX now owns is roughly 38 acres of land, public records show. This is in addition to 56.5 acres that SpaceX has under lease at the site of what would be the world’s first private and commercial vertical launch site. As previously reported by the Star, the firm also has developed a subdivision called “Mars Crossing.” SpaceX began buying property in Cameron County in 2012. (5/5)

NASA Suborbital Rocket Successfully Launched at White Sands, NM (Source: Space Daily)
A NASA Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket successfully launched the HYPE payload at 4:00:10 a.m. EDT, May 3, from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The payload from the University of California Davis flew to nearly 173 miles. An assessment of the data from the experiment is being conducted. (5/6)

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